Hanada: 'Our first aim is to nurture young film talent in Asia'
TOKYO — The once-mighty Nippon Film Development and Financing (NDF) fund is getting a new lease on life.Through a new company called the Omega Project, execs behind the old NDF are hoping to restore the funding concept and reinvigorate Japan’s role in international film financing. Their first step: sponsoring the first-ever Chinese Film Fest in Japan (CFFJ) in September. In the early 90s the NDF was one of the most important co-financing partners of high-profile films, many in cooperation with Britain’s Channel Four: “Howard’s End,” “Naked Lunch” and “The Crying Game,” to name just a few. “Those were great years,” says Yoshitomo Hanada, who was financial manager of the fund. But in 1995, NDF started to feel the pinch of receding Japanese capital and some less than exuberant box office results. When Hanada left, the investment banker Toyoyuki Yokohama took his place. “The year 2000 was the watershed,” explains Hanada. By that time NDF was burdened by enormous debt. The over-budget, critically-panned production of Chen Kaige’s “The Emperor and the Assassin” was the last straw. To resuscitate the concept, Hanada and Yokohama convinced investors to launch the Omega Project by absorbing a defunct specialized furniture company and to turn it into a media and film company. In two years Omega Project has developed a diversified package, covering film production and distribution, Internet ventures and cafes, and even fashion boutiques. NDF is one of Omega’s shareholders and has an office in its building. “We want to go step by step,” says Hanada. “Our first aim is to nurture young film talent in Asia and tear down psychological borders between Japan and other Asian countries.” The upcoming Chinese Fest in Japan is one attempt to draw young Chinese directors to Japan and to establish Omega as a force in future Japanese-Chinese co-productions. Next on the climb back to influence comes the cosponsoring of Japan’s 4th Student Film Fest in Okinawa in July, complete with invited big-name directors from Korea, Hong Kong, China and Taiwan who should start a pan-Asian dialogue of present and future filmmakers. At the same time, Omega’s aggressive financing system through IPOs of its subsidiaries prepares the cash flow needed for bigger ventures. “Once we have established ourselves as a major force in Asia, we will branch out into Europe and the U.S.,” says Hanada.